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Alfredo Martini address the audience in Cambiago.
“Cycling sounded like poetry when he was describing it”
By the time Filippo Pozzato graduated to race for the Italian team at the world championships, the late Alfredo Martini was no longer the national coach but he retained a sort of unofficial emeritus position.
Invariably, in the week leading up to the road race, the men who succeeded Martini as commissario tecnico – Franco Ballerini and Paolo Bettini – would invite their fellow Tuscan to address the team. By then deep into his eighties, Martini still maintained that rare ability to strike a chord with each individual while addressing an entire group.
“Alfredo was a truly special person because he knew how to choose his words and when he spoke, everyone – young and old – was enraptured,” Pozzato told Cyclingnews on Tuesday morning. “He had a way of speaking that was just so different to anybody else.”
Currently in action at the Vuelta a España, Pozzato admitted that he was setting off from Mairena del Alcor for stage 4 with a heavy heart, having learned of the 93-year-old Martini’s death late on Tuesday evening. “Even though he was a great age, you’re never ready for news like this,” he said. “I’m really saddened.”
Pozzato’s first encounter with Martini, the man who guided the squadra azzurra to six rainbow jerseys, came as he prepared for his first tilt at a world title as a junior in 1998. Although he lost out on the gold medal in a sprint to Mark Scanlon, Pozzato came away from Valkenburg with fond memories.
“I remember the first time I heard him speak, when I was with the Italian junior team. I sat there listening to him for an hour, awestruck, without saying a word myself,” Pozzato said. “He was always a poet of cycling, because cycling sounded like poetry when he was describing it.”
The tattooed, social media-savvy Pozzato seems aeons removed from Martini, who survived life as a partisan during World War II to carve out a career during Italian cycling’s sepia-tinted golden age of the 1950s.
Yet at various points over the past 15 years, Pozzato found a sympathetic ear and words of advice whenever he visited Martini at his home near Sesto Fiorentino, on the fringes of Florence. The traditional archetype of the Italian directeur sportif was often of a man with the ability to dispense the bluntest of criticism, but Martini’s preference was for the carrot over the stick.
“I never heard him speak badly of anyone, and he always had a positive word for everyone he met. I think he was one of the finest people I’ve ever had the fortune to meet,” Pozzato said. “I went there several times, and with his family and all of the people around him, it was a special cycling family.”
Pozzato’s final meeting with Martini came in February of this year, during Davide Cassani’s first training camp as Italian national team coach, having served as Martini’s regista, or road captain, in the early 1990s.
“I went to see him for the last time when I was with the Italian team in Camaiore,” Pozzato said. “I went with a friend to see him and you could see that he wasn’t very well. When I last asked after him around two weeks ago, he had gone into hospital.
“He had something special about him. We Italians were very fortunate to have him on our side and I count myself very lucky to have known him. Not just Italy but all of cycling has lost one of its most beautiful proponents.”